Features, Must Reads, Religion

The Josiah Effect: How Moderate Religion Fuels Fundamentalism

For years, my response to the most vocal critics of religion was to say, “By all means, rail against the extremists, but leave the moderates alone. They haven’t done any harm.” I was unconvinced that moderate religion gave shelter to fundamentalism, and I could find no justification for criticizing those familiar, comforting forms of the Abrahamic faiths that play a prominent role in the lives of even the most peaceful citizens of modern society.

But then I looked in the mirror.

It was after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. A pair of brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, had stormed the magazine’s offices and executed unarmed cartoonists, shouting, “Allahu Akbar!” The incident reminded me of another pair of brothers: Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombing. In each case, I saw myself in the younger sibling.

Kouachi brothers

Cherif and Said Kouachi

While the rest of the world was holding up signs saying, “I am Charlie,” I was thinking, I am Cherif. I was not, nor had I ever been, a terrorist. But I saw disturbing similarities between the younger gunman and myself, and I could not stop dwelling on them.

My religion was not Islam, but Christianity. As a child, I attended Sunday school classes in which I was taught about Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath — all the classics. Our church was moderate, and there were likely many adults there who didn’t take the stories literally; but no one ever told me that. All I saw were people who revered the Bible and regarded it as the ultimate authority in matters of morality, if not history and science.

In my teenage years, I asked questions, of course. I had doubts. But when I reached the age at which young people feel a drive to do something significant with their lives, I still turned to the Bible for answers — because I had been primed by eighteen years of religious upbringing, moderate though it was, to do so.

I remember it clearly. Just after graduating from high school, I decided to open the Bible that my church had given me when I entered the third grade. I started with the Sermon on the Mount, and I found it intoxicating. My first thought was that the words were truly divine. And my second was that I had to follow them at all costs.

It soon occurred to me that my church, precisely because it was moderate, was failing to adhere faithfully to Christ’s teachings. What was needed, I thought, was a return to the fundamentals. And that was my first step down a potentially dangerous road. It was entirely logical — after all, if you really have a divine book on your hands, you’d be stupid not to devote yourself to it.

Unbeknownst to me, my brother, two years my senior, was undergoing the same transformation hundreds of miles away. We told each other over the phone about our experiences, and immediately, our connection as brothers deepened. It was clearly an amazing part of God’s plan that we should be born again at the same time.

We fed off each others faith. As the younger brother, I was probably more influenced by him than he was by me; but it still went both ways. Within a matter of months, we had both become what I now regard as fundamentalists: We agreed that the Bible was the infallible word of God and that nothing in life could possibly be more important than doing God’s will.

When we visited each other, we would attend church gatherings, pray unceasingly, and rise early in the morning to read our Bibles together. My brother introduced me to many of his friends at church, and I felt as if I had been inducted into an exclusive organization of cosmic importance. We saw ourselves as soldiers in a spiritual war.

Now, as I look at the chilling security footage of Dzhokhar following his brother on the sidelines of the Boston Marathon, it is impossible not to see myself. I suspect that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar also prayed together; and I imagine that Tamerlan excitedly shared religious media with Dzhokhar, just as my brother had done with me.

Boston brothers






The Tsarnaev Brothers

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, it occurred to me that the Kouachi brothers’ experience was likely similar. And that was what led me to think, I am Cherif. It was a sentiment not of solidarity, but terror — terror that the same evil might lurk within me. And, equally horrifying, I had to admit that I felt a sense of understanding.

While the rest of the world saw nothing but a monster, I saw in Cherif a young man who was desperate to accomplish something of eternal significance with his life — a desire that I myself had felt. I saw someone who probably found purpose in a literal interpretation of the book that he had been taught was the word of God — a purpose to which I myself had once clung.

Most frightening of all, I saw in Cherif a man who was doing what he thought was right. He was not a nihilist or a lunatic; rather, he was a young man with an all-or-nothing attitude who was acting on imperatives that followed logically from a set of very bad axioms. If my circumstances had been different, I might have become the same kind of monster.

The forces that engendered in Cherif a will to destroy human life are not unique to radical Islam. Even now, Steven Anderson, pastor of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Phoenix, Arizona, preaches that all homosexuals should be put to death, and there are many Christians who share his attitude — a fact that should give us pause as we come to terms with the recent massacre in Orlando, Florida.

The likeness between Anderson’s and a jihadist’s visions for society is striking, and one must wonder whether these visions are acquired in similar ways. When asked by Mark Curtis of USA Today how he had arrived at his views, Anderson said, “I grew up in a Christian home, but it wasn’t until I read the Bible cover-to-cover at age seventeen that I discovered the truth of what the Bible really says.”

Change the age to eighteen, and Anderson’s words perfectly describe my own experience. He, too, was primed by years of religious upbringing to accept the Bible’s contents as the word of God when he picked it up as a teenager. And he embraced all of it, including the most abhorrent parts. How many jihadists have had similar experiences with the Koran?

In both Islam and Christianity, it is easy to dismiss fundamentalist doctrines as perversions of scripture. But the fundamentalists have a ready defense against this charge. When Curtis suggested that Anderson might be perverting Christianity, Anderson said, “Let the viewers read for themselves. Let them pull the Bible off their shelf and look up Leviticus 20:13, and then let them be the judge.”

The disturbing truth is that Anderson is right: If you look up the verse, you’ll find that it says exactly what he claims it says — just as the Koran says precisely what jihadists claim it says. This simple fact is what makes it so easy for fundamentalist clerics to convince vulnerable youth to subscribe to destructive doctrines.

Islam and Christianity are not the only religions subject to violent interpretation, of course. And as it turns out, the phenomenon of a young man becoming radicalized after reading his religion’s holy book for the first time has been around for thousands of years. The Bible itself describes one particularly famous case: that of King Josiah.

According to the accounts in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, Josiah became king of Judah at a time when his people had fallen away from God. Here’s what the Bible says happened:

Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.’ He gave it to Shaphan . . . And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king. When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. [2 Kings 22:8-11]

At this point in the history of Judah, the Book of the Law (Leviticus) had been lost for some time. It is therefore safe to assume — and the text makes it clear — that the people of Judah had not been following the commands described within it; and that was a good thing, because it meant that they weren’t executing people for non-crimes.

But when Josiah was confronted with the words of Leviticus, the very same thing happened to him that happened to Steven Anderson. He committed himself to an unwavering, literal interpretation of it—and turned the kingdom upside down. Here’s what he did:

“He put down the idolatrous priests.” [2 Kings 23:5]

“Josiah smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles and

covered the sites with human bones.” [2 Kings 23:14]

“Josiah slaughtered all the priests of those high places on the altars and

burned human bones on them.” [2 Kings 23:20]

“Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the

Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his

strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” [2 Kings 23:25]

The Bible describes these as righteous deeds. But it’s clear that Josiah slaughtered large numbers of people and that these were not acts of goodness at all. Josiah was a religious fundamentalist, an extremist, and a terrorist — little different from those of today. The reason he became one was that he was exposed to the teachings of the book of Leviticus at a vulnerable age.

This radicalizing effect of a religious text — what I call the Josiah Effect — is not uncommon. It happened to Josiah, it happened to Steven Anderson, and to some extent, it happened to me. Perhaps it also happened to the Tsarnaev and Kouachi brothers. What I would like to point out here is that this effect is an inevitable consequence of even moderate religion, which is culpable in at least three ways.

First, moderate religion primes children — by the millions, if not billions — from an early age to accept without question the authority of the very same books that serve as the basis for fundamentalist ideologies, and it teaches children that the gods described in those books are worthy of worship. This renders these children susceptible to fundamentalist ideology when, as young adults, they begin seeking a purpose for their lives.

Second, moderate religion propagates and legitimizes the vehicles of fundamentalist ideology — both the texts and the rituals. The fact that millions upon millions of Americans believe that the Bible is a holy book drives publishers to print millions upon millions of copies every year. Bibles are available in every home and on the back of every church pew. And all it takes for a fundamentalist to be born is for one lost soul to pick up a copy and find a powerful sense of purpose in a literal interpretation of the text. The same is true of the Koran.

Third, moderate religion lends credibility to fundamentalism by claiming to believe in the very same gods and the very same divinely-inspired texts that are exalted by fundamentalists. If not for moderate religion, the absurdity of fundamentalist beliefs would be much more obvious. But those beliefs are not as easy to identify as absurd when billions of people worship the same god and study the same scripture. The result is that fundamentalist beliefs are seen not as ridiculous, but as merely unorthodox or misguided interpretations of an ideology that is, on the whole, widely regarded as correct.

The absurdity of the situation would be comical if it weren’t so tragic. For generations, we have been printing billions of books containing verses that command us to kill idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, and unbelievers. We teach our children that these books are holy and then cross our fingers in hopes that they won’t take those verses seriously. Then we have the temerity to be shocked when, like King Josiah, some of them read the texts with fresh eyes and decide that they should be taken literally after all.

I don’t deny that there are nuggets of truth and beauty to be found in the scriptures of the major religions. But just as in a cable TV package, the real gems are bundled together with far too much garbage, from misogyny to homophobia. When the stakes are high — as in the case of religion, wherein doctrinal error can mean the difference between heaven and hell — those bits of garbage become every bit as dangerous as a loaded firearm left out in the open for a child to find.

To be sure, there are issues of politics and international relations that must also be addressed. But in the meantime, as long as the scriptures continue to be reproduced and revered in their present bundled forms, the Josiah Effect guarantees that every generation will produce its own crop of extremists. Until the mainstream religions break up these bundles and explicitly disown the abhorrent verses, each new generation will have to rediscover on its own just how dangerous they can be — and that discovery will always come at a high price.


Henry Rambow is a writer and teacher who formerly served as an evangelical missionary in China.


  1. Bitfu says

    In other words:

    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world…

  2. Correllio says

    IFf this wete true bullions of Jews and Christians would be terrorists. They are not. They interpret their scriptures within their hermeneutical traditions which pays attention to basics like historical context snd genre. This deluded soul is what you get when you break away from your historical tradition and decide you can interpret stuff by yourself. He clearly can’t recognise Leviticus is part of a holiness code given at the inauguration of the Levitical priesthood thousands of years agi and that it has also undergone editing and reinterpretation aming Jews and is tead through the lense of the NewcTestament by Christians. I doubt he even knows that. But in any case it still hasn’t turned him or his fellow idiots into terrorists because that is inimical to the most fundamental message of Judeo-Christianity. Love god love your neighbour. You cannot compare that with Islam which has its own hermeneutical tradition , whose scriptures have no narrative cintext nor any organising principle like the Judeo-Christian canon and whose fundamental message is submit or die. It is very disappointing to read such juvenile tosh like this on the otherwise fine Quillette but then ignorance and daddy issues are iwhat is killing people at the moment.

    • Brennan Young says

      I think you’ve completely misunderstood the point of the article.

      If it were true, there would not be billions, but a small minority of religious nuts who take invocations to murder found in scripture as commands to be acted upon – and that is exactly what we see happening. Occasionally, the minority nuts find positions of power and then the murder and oppression becomes even more terrible.

      What’s being criticised is not *your* interpretation, but the fact that moderate interpretations of scripture legitimise more dangerous ones.

      It’s not unreasonable to expect the fundamental message of Christianity to be taken as ‘submit or die’. Romans 6:23 states it absolutely explicitly. Christianity has a very bloody history of persecuting heretics and non-believers, and I am sure “the wages of sin” (not to mention Leviticus) have been regarded as acceptable pretexts for those persecutions and murders.

      • Bitfu says

        Christianity has a very bloody history of persecuting heretics and non-believers,…

        That is such a compelling point, Brennan…but for the fact the matter at hand occurred on freaking Sunday.

        But…but Steven Anderson in Phoenix says Gays should be put to death. And…and he’s a Christian! So, um…all religion is bad.


        A final point: When you write I am Cherif, and “the same evil may lurk inside me”, it is not so much a revelation about religion, but rather it’s a revelation about your mental heath. Now, you can blame religion if you want to…but something tells me if there was no religion, you’d still be struggling with an imbalance or malevolence that may lurk inside.

        [Look at it another way, Brennan. Take a religious person who commits a dastardly deed, and says- The devil made me do it. Your first inclination (hopefully) will be this is an imbalanced person who cannot accept responsibility for his actions.

        When you say, I am Cherif, while implying that the reason you’re like Cherif is because of religion—then religion is your devil. And this is simply your way of shirking responsibility for allowing yourself to be seduced by ___________ [fill-in-the-blank-but-remember: It’s-not-just-the-Bible-or-Koran-that-seduces-and-warps-a simple-mind]

        • c_gordon says

          “A final point: When you write I am Cherif, and “the same evil may lurk inside me”, it is not so much a revelation about religion, but rather it’s a revelation about your mental heath. Now, you can blame religion if you want to…but something tells me if there was no religion, you’d still be struggling with an imbalance or malevolence that may lurk inside.”

          Good point, though I would substitute ‘mental health’ for ‘archetype’. I don’t believe fundamentalism, zealotry, etc. per se are bad/malevolent/negative (and so on), because those personality traits (or whatever you wish to call them) can and often are channeled toward good/benevolent/positive goals; notwithstanding the obvious relative ‘goodness’ of some of these goals. I’m assuming this (apostate?) Christian author wouldn’t take issue with the ‘liberal’ zealotry regarding some of the usual suspects (e.g., Galileo, Michelangelo, et al.). Also, didn’t care for the casual and thoughtless tossing about of terms like ‘misogyny’ and ‘homophobia’, which are *way* too often synonyms for ‘jerk-face’ or ‘meany-head’ or what have you.

        • Dave says

          A major difference between modern Christianiy and Islam is that Christianity had the opportunity to go through the enlightenment period. Before then, the cruelty of Christian beliefs weren’t spread via terrorism, but through the church. And punishments were no secret, but very public. This was all allowed because it was perceived as a truly divine institution at the time. Islam never went through that or the rennaissance, in fact many Muslim countries regressed and became more barbaric

          • Crescente Villahermosa v says

            The Enlightenment rejected the entire Judeo-Christian religious superstructure. Its philosophers were either atheists or Deists who recognized God in philosophical terms. Do re-read your Rousseau, Spinoza, Voltaire, Leibniz, etc.

        • Crescente Villahermosa v says

          You are a terrorist. You terrorize people with your religious text. Josiah, along with the whole Jewish Scriptures should have been thrown out by the Church as recommended by Marcion. But the Church then was still struggling for legitimacy among the Jews whom it wanted to convert, hence their inclusion.

    • “…billions of Jews and Christians would be terrorists. They are not.”- that depends on your reading of the word terrorist. I’d argue that through today’s lens things like the massacres of Vassy or St. Bartholomew’s day would be labelled terrorism. That means the French religious wars were basically two competing factions of terrorists, each with their own religiopolitical agenda- and 2 to 4 million died in that conflict alone.

      • How can you look at what Jews do to non-Jews in Israel and not see terrorism? Ethnic cleansing and torture are terrorism.

          • Susie says


            The Palestinian/Israeli conflict has absolutely nothing to do with religion. They aren’t fighting over who has the better God or religious texts. Palestinians were ethnically cleansed off their land to make room for displaced European Jews from WW2, a war the Palestinians had nothing to do with. Furthermore, the whole concept of Zionism was created by an Atheist, Theodor Herzl, who had contempt for religious Jews. So basically this malevolent idiot thought that a real estate agent God he didn’t actually believe in, promised him and his like minded followers, prime real estate in the Mid East. In other words, this whole conflict is all about Western colonization of Arabic land. Nothing more, nothing less.

      • Crescente Villahermosa v says

        You, as a purveyor of the persecuting texts of the Bible, are the terrorist.Josiah was a faillianceled king and prophet who was misled by the power hungry priests who planted that alleged book of the law in the temple.Josiah led his people to perdition by reneging on his vassal alliance with Egypt.

    • Carl says

      Anyone can be dismissive and attempt to justify their religion, but you need to read the article more closely. You seem to miss the point. The seed of fundamentalism is in the bed of cultural Christianity. Deny it, if you will, but that is a fact, and the article clearly points to the root of a human problem. Abrahamic religions have always been sources of bondage, sexism, homophobia, pre-emptive war, genocide, ignorance, and superstition. The religious left among the Christian cults have chosen to ignore those portions of the story and focus on more acceptable passages, but until they condemn the barbarism of their own scripture, they remain a matrix out of which will continue to emerge the great threat of fundamentalism with its violence and hate. Christians may not like to be compared to Islamists, but the author of this article is making a just comparison, and he knows, not from his studies, but from his own life experience. Your criticism of his insight is nonsense.

        • crescente g villahermosa says

          You are the one with the non-sequitur. Sex between two consenting adults is very remote from rape which mostly an expression of hate and power rather than love or even libido.

        • QuadBee says

          Reductionist crap…makes no sense whatsoever.

    • Coexistence says

      If we’re going to bemoan somebody for interpreting scripture as literal, let’s not use the fact that Jewish and Christian leaders have edited the scripture to suit the times. Let’s not claim that the core of biblical scripture is to love thine neighbour. The texts are meant to be taken as is, to be made your own as it speaks to you. You think that people choosing to ignore that their holy book praises homophobia and the stoning of adulterers but everything else is unequivocally good and must be followed is somehow logical?

      It just doesn’t make sense. Can we not love each other just because humanity is beautiful. Do we really need a book to tell us how to think and what is right or wrong. Community is a great thing and religion has oft brought a strong sense of this. There is, however, strong ties between extreme fanaticism and religion that just don’t exist in a culture void of religious overtones.

      • crescente g villahermosa says

        Well “holy” scripture is literal so how else should one interpret it? Those “hagiographers” meant what they wrote. What people should do is to understand the times and circumstances under which they were written and by what sort of persons. The “book of the law” was planted by the power hungry priests (cf. Bishop Shelby Spong). It was part of the Deuterocanonical reform of the priestly caste that rewrote the Torah allegedly written by Moses.

    • Crescente Villahermosa v says

      Christians of the West became even worse. They became imperialists Just like the British and Americans who made it their mission to “civilize” colored peoples “with a Krag”. Or like the French with their “mision civilacitrice”. The Dutch, the Belgians and Germans, all of them Christians went along with that odious justification for racial aggrandizement.

  3. Correllio says

    Sorry about typos – typing on phone and the mobile page display obscures half the text.

  4. The “Quillette” editorial staff seems bound and determined to present all major religions in a bad light.

    Of course, even 2 Timothy 3:16 is subject to more than one interpretation. Here’s just a few:

    The King James’ Version: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…”

    Now, consider the American New Standard Version: “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness…”

    Can you discern the difference? Who’s to say which translation is truly inspired (pun intended)?

    This notion of Biblical “inerrancy” can be traced back to the American evangelists of the 19th century.

    Why anyone would unquestionably embrace the beliefs of such an extreme, separatist movement as gospel truth (pun intended), to the exclusion of all others, says more about that individual than it does about an entire religion.

    • If you’re going to bring 1 Timothy into the argument as evidence of Biblical “wisdom”, I have a counter-argument:

      > I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. (1 Timothy 2:12).

      • crescente g villahermosa says

        Indeed. And that contradicts the narrative that Josiah consulted a prophetess, Huldah, about those alleged “holy” scriptures which the power hungry priestly caste conveniently “found” (i.e. planted) in the Temple.

    • crescente g villahermosa says

      All major religions in a “bad light”? No, only the Abrahamic religions whose adherents insist on divine revelation based on “holy” scriptures of doubtful provenance and authorship. Among the many religions of the world, it is only the ones claiming Abrahamic origin that tend to interpret the narratives of their scriptures as historical truth. Most intelligent devotees of other religions that Judaeo-Christians call “pagan” understand their scriptures, full of fantastic stories, as legends from which they distill moral truths as to the origins, purpose and destinay of men and the cosmos. I know of no educated Hindu who believes in a literal interpretation of the Mahabharata. Even the ancient Romans understood that their gods, with their follies and immorality, were anthropomorphic projections of themselves.

    • crescente g villahermosa says

      True. And that goes for those who do not distinguish among the stories of the bible as to which are “historical” or didactic.

  5. You realise this argument could be applied to, for example, the entire Left; moderate social democrats as bridge to Leninists and Maoists. Or, indeed, any movement of any form that has some commonality with a murderous fringe.

    • Of course, because religion, leftism, nationalism, etc are all made by humans. And when humans develop an overarching ideology that gives social cohesion to a group and meaning to its members, this is what happens.

    • Brennan Young says

      …or indeed the entire Right; with the moderate right wing acting as a bridge to fascism and nazism.

      (FWIW I am very suspicious and critical of the left/right dichotomy, which I regard as largely false, misleading, intellectually lazy, and lacking in the nuance necessary to describe the true variety of human ideology. Not to mention the all-too-common tendency of politicians to ‘borrow’ the trappings and nomenclature of the other ‘side’ in order to win favour with its supporters. Hitler called his party socialist to win over those who would vote left, but sent actual socialists to the concentration camps. East Germany called their republic “Democratic” although it was extremely authoritarian… etc. Best not to be too seduced by the names and colors politicians, parties and nations adopt).

    • Hazoo says

      Lorenzo from Oz: Nobody spends their entire childhood being told that The Communist Manifesto is the word of an all-knowing, all-powerful being that created everything you can see.

    • Karl says

      That counter-argument would only apply if *moderate* social democrats all read from Mao’s Little Red Book or The Communist Manifesto and called it an infallible document that’s not to be taken literally (even though it’s infallible) and used it as the basis of our political philosophy. I would say most social democrats don’t do this.

    • crescente g villahermosa says

      I can just quote Joe Biden as he tried to respond to Sarah Palin’s incoherent rant during the vice presidential debate: “Where do I begin?” Non-sequitur.

  6. Mike says

    Imagine a modern and educated world where no one has ever heard of religion, a world where religion was never created to fill a void in human understanding of the world they live in.
    Imagine a world where humans put their “faith” in the logic of science where theories can be tested and proven or tested and disproven…
    Now imagine what would happen to someone in that modern and educated world if they suddenly came forward and said “I am the son of god!” or “God has spoken to me!” In that modern and educated world that person would get the help they needed to treat their mental illness.
    The problem is, the majority of religions were established thousands of years ago, long before the most humans had an understanding of science, and since then religion has wound its tentacles in to just about all aspects of human life, institutions and government.

    There can be no peace while religion exists!

    • OK, I’m imagining it. I see eugenicists, Stalinists, Mao, Pol Pot and other great figures that make the French Revolution, Communist Revolution and Cultural Revolution seem like walks in the park. Theistic-based worldviews did not cause the world’s problems. Human nature did. Theistic-based worldviews have been imperfect in their solutions. But Judeo-Christianity has been far less bad at this than all the theistic and non-theistic worldviews that thought Judeo-Christianity was the problem.

      • Darl Chinchilla says

        Really now. The Crusades, the Inquisition and the whole of the Dark Ages would like to disagree with you. You’re trying to distract from the point by using “worldviews” instead of religion. World views are fine and dandy, but when they turn into religion, exclusive and dogmatic due to their very nature, that is when the problems begin.

  7. Pingback: The Josiah Effect: How Moderate Religion Fuels Fundamentalism | Quillette | Just Merveilleux

  8. Following on the thread started by Lorenzo above, throughout this article replace “religion” with “worldview.” Moderate worldviews fuel fundamentalism. Everything you wrote is just as true (and false) about social democrats and Marxist mass-murderers. No, it’s not just theistic worldviews. The eugenicists and Marxists viewed themselves as scientific rationalists trying to liberate us from primitive religious views. The solution is not to replace your pro-Christian absolutism with anti-religious absolutism. Nor is it to eliminate all values that people may wish to live (and die) for. Your extremist proposal to eliminate moderates is not the answer. It’s just your extremism switching sides.

    • A Theist says

      I think the fundamental (see what I did there) difference in “worldview” vs. “religion” is that no one (credibly) claims that the works of Marx, Engels, or others are infallible, or that they were divinely authored and thus due a greater level of deference and immunity from scrutiny than other works authored by fallible humans. By placing the religious text on a pedestal, and rendering it thereby simultaneously worthy of belief and immune from criticism, we create a trap for those who may be susceptible to fundamentalist ideologies.

      Besides that, many people have viewed the works of Mao, Engels, and even Salinger as infallible and perfect; some of those people have used that belief as justification to commit heinous crimes. That does not invalidate the author’s point; rather, it seems to bolster it.

  9. “The taming and domestication of religious faith is one of the unceasing chores of civilization.” – Christopher Hitchens

    Some religions have undergone more “taming and domestication” than others.

    Is this true? “There have been over one thousand terrorist attacks in Europe in the past five years. Take a guess at what percent of those terrorists were Muslim. Wrong, now guess again. It’s less than 2%” – Omar Alnatour, huffingtonpost .

  10. Pingback: Does moderate religion promote the extremist version? « Why Evolution Is True

  11. When you have a problem (i.e. Islamic terrorism) the solution does not begin by broadening the scope of the problem to include Christianity. I’m an atheist, but it’s completely irrational to equate Christian doctrine with Islamic doctrine. The problem is not the Josiah effect (stop and think about the unreal nature of that statement). No, the problem is the Mohammed effect. The prime religious motivators are (a) the imitation of your prophet and (b) the conditions of entry into heaven. In this regard, Islam is infinitely more violent than Christianity, and that’s where the focus should be. Read the biographies of Mo, Jesus and the Buddha, to a five-year-old, and even they can see that one of them was infinitely more violent than the other. Equating all religions is lazy and distracting.

    • theReptile says

      Well, you’re glossing over the fact that in much of its history Christianity has been an exceedingly violent religion. Today (finally!) it has gotten to the point where most of the its leaders aren’t inciting followers to violence. And that’s where the culpability really lies – Buddhists are peaceful because the Dalai Lama is an inspiring and accepting individual. Many imams are not. Many Christian leaders are anti-gay and it shows in hate crime statistics. Don’t blame the guys who lived over a thousand years ago – they can’t change. Blame the people alive TODAY.

      • crescente g villahermosa says

        I like Buddhism as much as the next peace-loving hippie. But the Japanese who massacred hundreds of thousands of people, raped armies of women, conducted heinous experiments on prisoners and unsuspecting populations were……Buddhists (with a touch of Shinto and Confucianism of course). But I agree the imperialist Western powers were Christians who sought to civilize “inferior” peoples with a Krag as advised by Kipling.

  12. Excellent article. This should be read and discussed in schools.

  13. Tim Underwood says

    You are correct. Only a few will ever read these holy books. This is because it takes a lot of motivation and intelligence. A Protestant innovator is simply one such minority within the Catholic clergy. Most of them, the clergy, are extremely ungifted and unmotivated.

    Moderates are by simply the majority of us dimwits. There is a lot of smugness held by the great multitude of followers in the so called moderate camp.

    Look in the mirror, you great stalwart moderates, you just go along on assumptions and have no desire to be responsible for what those old manuscripts actually say.

    Because of your irresponsible personality type, these stupid religions still prevail.

    • crescente g villahermosa says

      By Protestant innovator, you must be referring to Martin Luther who wrote that Jews should be rounded up and locked in synagogues which we should burn. Hmmmm………wherever did Hitler get the idea that Jews can be massacred and put into ovens?

  14. Interesting article, but I don’t think that the problem is ideological, it is usually about land, power and politics.

    Professor Robert paper from university of Chicago analysed every known case of terrorism from 1980 to 2003 (315 attacks as part of 18 campaigns), and he came to the conclusion that (quoting from his book :Dying to Win) ” there is little connection between suicide terrorism and fundamentalism, or any one of the world’s religions… The taproot of suicide terrorism is nationalism” he argues; it is “an extreme strategy for national liberation” (pp. 79–80).

    • crescente g villahermosa says

      Which is what Marx was trying to say in a convoluted way in Das Kapital and the Manifesto.

  15. The Abrahamic relgions are all based on blood sacrifice and genocide – we know them by their fruits – the only thing that stops good people from wiping these religions out, is that we’d end up being just like them.

    • crescente g villahermosa says

      True. And not much different from the Aztecs whose civilization Christians tried to obliterate. Yes, the Jewish scriptures would not pass Jesus’ own test about good fruit from good trees. Brilliant! The Church should have heeded Marcion’s recommendation. You will note that Jesus never said YHWH was his Father. He also made disparagingly light of claiming descent from Abraham saying that people who do so are not much different from stones. On many occasions, he repudiated Jewish traditional beliefs based on their scriptures such as the reason why some people are born with disabilities.

  16. Why is it that we don’t engage religious folks about their behavior of rampant cherry picking of ideas in their holy texts? My grandfather was doing this in the 1950’s. I do not understand how religious moderates can’t even answer the most basic questions about which part of the texts they are going to believe or they are going to completely disregard. There is a complete lack of integrity from most believers in this regard and no one calls them on it. Is it really disrespectful to question this lack of integrity?

    • crescente g villahermosa says

      Great point! And who does the cherry picking the most? Why? The Church, whether Catholic or Protestant. Look or listen to their Lectionaries as they are paraded upraised and read at mass and services. Does it mention mass killings of whole populations, of rapes of enslaving non-Jews? And when a church member refuses to follow certain teachings, he/she is labelled a “cafeteria Christian.” Well Jesus did advise us follow what they teach but not what they do.

  17. If the ”believer” wants to take hermeneutics to areas of biblical text they find distasteful or that they should not be viewed through a modern day lens, then why are such texts inculcated into children without explaining they are Historical Fiction or simply metaphor or analogous?

    If the moderates claim to champion Evolution and the Human Genome Project they have no right to then claim veracity for such nonsense as the raising of Lazarus or the Resurrection.

    When extremists act based on their interpretation of religious text it is because the precedent has already been set – and more often than not, by God.

    • crescente g villahermosa says

      Which is why I never sent my children to Sunday bible school. I catechized them myself. I would not recommend the Jewish scriptures (i.e. the Old Testament) to my young daughter nor did I recommend them to my sons when they were children.

    • crescente g villahermosa says

      He has a right to be considering the harm that these religious “holy” texts have done through the millennia.

  18. While this viewpoint is compelling on the surface, I’m not sure it carries any particular insight specific to religion. Any large group (and the purported population viewed here would be about 2.5 billion combining Muslims and Catholics), will have outliers. So too will economists, politicians, lawyers, and electricians. That there are extremists is not a surprise. Yet, how moderates view them and to a certain degree embolden them may be… However, I remain unconvinced that the core necessarily breeds or coddles the extreme.

    Kind regards,

    • crescente g villahermosa says

      It is very simple. We either agree that these texts are “holy” and true or not. If not, why do we keep revering and handing them down from generation to generation.

      • Reverence is certainly, at least, some recommendation, but it doesn’t really address the assertion of the article. The notion of support from moderates for extremist views suggests a need on the part of extremists for a “garden in which to grow their extremism.” I would suggest such extremism would exist regardless.

  19. I too was a fundamentalist and missionary, taking the words of the Bible literally.

    However, it was that same Holy Writ that in the end convinced me that it was all a lie.

    When I realized that the evidence for the Theory of Evolution was overwhelming, I asked myself; “What else did the church lie to me about?”

    Virtually everything I discovered.

    peace jaw

  20. Russell says

    If this premise stands then this is true of any “moderate” philosophy that can be taken to extreme. So even atheism, though some hold to it’s tenants and writings “moderately”, atheism has been attributed to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people in world history. In fact, many argue that atheism accounts for far more deaths that all the religions combined. http://www.conservapedia.com/Atheism_and_Mass_Murder

    I cannot speak to Islam for I am not that familiar with it, and I don’t know how Jews would answer this. However, as a Christian biblical interpreter, being “moderate” (in terms of executing homosexuals, genocide, etc) is actually absolutely necessary in interpreting the Scriptures. Israel as a civil state was called by God to certain acts of judgments and certain laws had extreme punishments; however in the New Testament this civil government and civil laws are abrogated in the establishment of a new “Israel” constituted in the New Covenant. The church and believers are not to dole out justice and retribution. They are to “turn the other cheek”. They are to “bless those who persecute” and return blessings for evil. (There is certainly nothing of this type of language within atheism nor Islam.) I would argue that people (and groups) like Stephen Anderson ignore rather than “take literally” what is said in the New Testament and particularly Jesus.

    Furthermore, I would argue that every philosophy and religion is capable of being perverted and twisted to conform to whatever a person or group chooses. Nearly every religion and philosophy the world has known has been used for nafarious purposes. So should we expunge them for this? I would say no. Now certainly some religions and philosophies lend more to violent perversions, and that is why they should be evaluated as such.

    Yet I think we are looking in the wrong direction. I think the real problem is humans. If we were to remove every religion and philosophy of the world, mankind would find some way to justify murder and violence. We need to address the real problem. I am thankful that as a Christian, there is an answer for that problem.

    • “I would argue that every philosophy and religion is capable of being perverted and twisted to conform to whatever a person or group chooses. Nearly every religion and philosophy the world has known has been used for nafarious purposes.” You are saying religion is always good and the problem is it is being abused. That is rubbish. Even the Bible admits religion is not good because man is not all good. So the Bible condemns man-made religion. It claims to give you the one true religion, Christianity. People who say religion is always good are absurdly indicating that it is as good to worship your garden gnome as it is God. All religions are not the same or equally good. And people who say that religion is always good are encouraging say Islamists not to apologise for what crimes some Islamists do in the name of religion, “It is nothing to do with our faith so we will not apologise.” Sorry but the murders done by Christianity and Islam show that as no other religion was even half as bad that there is something harmful in those faiths that produces some terrorists. A religion can make some people terrorists without it being clear how. That is enough to discourage the religion through educating the members and supporting them if they choose to do the right thing and quit.

  21. I’m not sure the argument is so strong as its rhetorical effect (I don’t mean that as an insult; it’s a provocative piece, whose points are well worth considering). We could, it seems, advance the same argument, changing “moderate religion” to “moderate citizen” and conclude that moderate Americans fuel any number of evils perpetrated by the state and its agents. Anyone could take whichever evils she pleases, abortion, say, if she is conservative, or various anti-LGTB positions if she is left leaning, or any of the atrocities committed in various war time activities, and argue that those moderate Americans, who would never themselves advocate for or against extreme measures passively allow the evil to run its course, remaining culpable until they work towards breaking up more extreme political factions, explicitly disowning them and the abhorrent laws cultivating the evil itself. I’m not sure that’s a very good argument, both because the conclusion doesn’t seem to follow, and because, practically, it isn’t clear that moving towards political extremes is a good thing. And, failing in the political theater, I’m not sure the argument fares any better in the religious one.

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